NEW YORK // JD Salinger, the legendary author, youth hero and fugitive from fame whose novel The Catcher in the Rye shocked and inspired a world he increasingly shunned, has died. He was 91. Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, the author's son, the actor Matt Salinger, said in a statement from Salinger's longtime literary representative, Harold Ober Associates, Inc. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in a small, remote house in Cornish, New Hampshire. The Catcher in the Rye, with its immortal teenage protagonist, the twisted, rebellious Holden Caulfield, came out in 1951, a time of anxious, Cold War conformity and the dawn of modern adolescence.
The Book-of-the-Month Club, which made The Catcher in the Rye a featured selection, advised that for "anyone who has ever brought up a son" the novel will be "a source of wonder and delight - and concern." Holden, enraged by all the "phoneys" who make "me so depressed I go crazy," soon became American literature's most famous anti-hero since Huckleberry Finn. The novel's sales are astonishing - more than 60 million copies worldwide - and its impact incalculable. Decades after publication, the book remains a defining expression of that most American of dreams: to never grow up.
Salinger was writing for adults, but teenagers from all over identified with the novel's themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy, not to mention the luck of having the last word. The Catcher in the Rye presents the world as an ever-so-unfair struggle between the goodness of young people and the corruption of elders, a message that only intensified with the oncoming generation gap. Novels from Evan Hunter's The Blackboard Jungle to Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, films from Rebel Without a Cause to The Breakfast Club and countless rock 'n' roll songs echoed Salinger's message of kids under siege. Benjamin Braddock of The Graduate, one of the great anti-heroes of the 1960s, was but a blander version of Salinger's narrator.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, who read the book, as so many did, when he was in middle school, said: "Catcher in the Rye made a very powerful and surprising impression on me.. "Part of it was the fact that our seventh grade teacher was actually letting us read such a book. But mostly it was because Catcher had such a recognisable authenticity in the voice that even in 1977 or so, when I read it, felt surprising and rare in literature."
The novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote Everything Is Illuminated, said: "Many readers were created by The Catcher in The Rye and many writers, too. "He and his characters embodied a kind of American resistance that has been sorely missed these last few years, and will now be missed even more." The cult of Catcher turned tragic in December 1980 when the crazed Beatles fan Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, saying Salinger's novel as an inspiration and stating that "this extraordinary book holds many answers."
A few months later, a copy of Catcher was found in the hotel room of John David Hinckley after he attempted to assassinate President Reagan. By the 21st century, Holden himself seemed relatively mild, but Salinger's book remained a standard in school curriculums and was discussed on countless web sites and a fan page on Facebook. Salinger fans shared their grief on Thursday on social networks. Topics such as "Salinger" and "Holden Caufield" were among the most popular on Twitter.
CNN's Larry King tweeted that Catcher was his favourite book. Humorist John Hodgman wrote: "I prefer to think JD Salinger has just decided to become extra reclusive." As of Thursday night, Catcher was in the top 20 on Amazon.com's best-seller list. Salinger's other books do not equal the influence or sales of Catcher but they are still read, again and again, with great affection and intensity. Critics, at least briefly, rated Salinger as a more accomplished and daring short story writer than John Cheever. The collection "Nine Stories" features the classic "For Esme - with Love and Squalor," the deadpan account of a suicidal Army veteran and the little girl he hopes, in vain, will save him.
The fictional work Franny and Zooey, like Catcher is a youthful, obsessively articulated quest for redemption, featuring a memorable argument between Zooey and his mother as he attempts to read in the bathtub. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, where many of Salinger's stories appeared, said: "Everyone who works here and writes here at The New Yorker, even now, decades after his silence began, does so with a keen awareness of JD Salinger's voice.
"He is so widely read in America, and read with such intensity, that it's hard to think of any reader, young and old, who does not carry around the voices of Holden Caulfield or Glass family members." Salinger also wrote the novellas Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour - An Introduction both featuring the neurotic fictional Glass family that appeared in much of his work. His last published story, "Hapworth 16, 1928," ran in The New Yorker in 1965.
By then, he was increasingly viewed like a precocious child whose manner had soured from cute to insufferable. "Salinger was the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school," Norman Mailer once remarked. Jerome David Salinger was born Jan. 1, 1919, in New York City. His father was a wealthy importer of cheeses and meat and the family lived for years on Park Avenue. Like Holden, Salinger was an indifferent student with a history of trouble in various schools. He was sent to Valley Forge Military Academy at age 15, where he wrote at night by torch beneath the covers and eventually earned his only diploma.
In 1940, he published his first fiction, "The Young Folks," in Story magazine. He served in the Army from 1942 to 1946, carrying a typewriter with him most of the time, writing "whenever I can find the time and an unoccupied foxhole," he told a friend. Returning to New York, the lean, dark-haired Salinger pursued an intense study of Zen Buddhism but also cut a gregarious figure in the bars of Greenwich Village, where he astonished acquaintances with his proficiency in rounding up dates. One drinking buddy, author AE Hotchner, would remember Salinger as the proud owner of an "ego of cast iron," contemptuous of writers and writing schools, convinced that he was the best thing to happen to American letters since Herman Melville.
In 1998 the author Joyce Maynard published her memoir At Home in the World, in which she detailed her eight-month affair with Salinger in the early 1970s; she was less than half his age. She recalled an unflattering picture of a controlling personality with eccentric eating habits, and described their problematic sex life. In 2000 his daughter Margaret Salinger's Dreamcatcher portrayed the writer as an unpleasant recluse who drank his own urine and spoke in tongues.
Matt Salinger, the author's other child, disputed his sister's book when it came out and labelled it "gothic tales of our supposed childhood." "He was a caring, fun, and wonderful father to me, and a tremendous grandfather to my boys," he wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press. * AP